Haruo Shirane on Basho & Haiku
During the spring, Coldfront Magazine
had the pleasure to attend Poets House 25th Anniversary Program event Passwords: Haruo Shirane
on Basho & Haiku
As part of the Anniversary Program that covered twenty-five years of poetry over thirty six events, this talk was welcomed with enthusiasm by a full house of haiku practioners and those eager to learn more about the poetic form and its master Basho.
Haruo Shirane is the Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at Columbia University, and his talk was loosely assembled around his seminal study, Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho.
While Western audiences tend to think of haiku as a "special genre" that is practiced by trained experts, Shirane
argued that haiku was never an exclusive aesthetic form but has always functioned as an important means of social interaction in Japan.
These poetic exchanges took place both between individuals and in groups.
Haiku in fact became a popular art form precisely because of its accessibility.
took the audience through a number of poems, introducing a list of key Japanese terms such as hokku (opening verse), kigo (seasonal word), and kireji (cutting word).
lingered at length on the key notion of ga-zoku which connotes the mixture of the elegant and the vulgar, or the classical and the popular.
After explaining the formal and social aspects of haiku in the Japanese context, Shirane
went on to address the rise of haiku's popularity in Western culture in the 1950s and 60s through the Beats such as Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac.
Shirane also discussed D. T. Suzuki, perhaps the most famous Buddhist to Westerners, that held a teaching position at Columbia University around that time.